Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

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Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by BWV 1080 » Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:06 pm

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/paleofu ... s-by-2100/
(this is a great blog BTW)
But the 21st century’s rather fashionable interest in Tesla has had some disturbing side effects. Specifically, people want to canonize the man (sometimes literally) and turn his personal and professional struggles into a sort of morality tale involving clearly delineated characters: some ostensibly good and others ostensibly evil.

Tesla boosters of the 21st century will tell you that Tesla was the embodiment of all that is good in the world — Matthew Inman of the Oatmeal did just that in one of his more recent comics, “Why Nikola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived.” They’ll tell you that Tesla’s struggles against professional adversaries like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse (both of whom Tesla worked for at various points in his life) were the most pure examples of good versus evil. This past year, people have been crowdfunding museums and films and any number of other events in an attempt to raise Tesla’s profile and are constantly couching his work in moralistic terms. But I hope that with this renewed excitement for the life’s work of a great inventor people don’t lose sight of one thing: he was a brilliant man, but he was just a man.

Like any man, Tesla was far from perfect and sometimes had very warped ideas about how the world should operate. One of Tesla’s most disturbing ideas was his belief in using eugenics to purify the human race. In the 1930s, Tesla expressed his belief that the forced sterilization of criminals and the mentally ill — which was occurring in some European countries (most disturbingly Nazi Germany) and in many states in the U.S. — wasn’t going far enough. He believed that by the year 2100 eugenics would be “universally established” as a system of weeding out undesirable people from the population.

The February 9, 1935 issue of Liberty magazine includes many other fascinating predictions by Tesla for the future of humanity, which we’ll no doubt look at in the weeks ahead. But for the time being I’ve transcribed only the eugenics portion of Tesla’s predictions below, to remind us that we should be cautious when making gods of men:
The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established. In past ages, the law governing the survival of the fittest roughly weeded out the less desirable strains. Then man’s new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. As a result, we continue to keep alive and to breed the unfit. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct. Several European countries and a number of states of the American Union sterilize the criminal and the insane. This is not sufficient. The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny. A century from now it will no more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit than to marry a habitual criminal.

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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:58 pm

I read about that elsewhere within the last few days. I think that all such things are worth bringing to light for a full assessment of the character of important figures. However, if we started picking apart every great man of positive accomplishment for a now discredited opinion (or perhaps questionable behavior) and allowed what we now perceive as a flaw to carry the weight of our estimation of him, we would literally have no heroes or role models left among historical figures.

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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by Teresa B » Tue Dec 11, 2012 9:56 am

Good point--eugenics is an abhorrent notion, and of course is related to the unspeakable horrors of the Nazis' Social Darwinism. However, it's fascinating when you read how many so-called respected scientists of the early 20th Century subscribed to the idea.

My late friend Stephen Jay Gould's book "The Mismeasure of Man" deals with the eugenics movement in some depth, and is well worth reading, even if you don't totally buy his discrediting of IQ testing. It is interesting that Binet developed the IQ test mainly to determine who was "feeble-minded"--e.g., moron, imbecile or idiot. These tests were taken to a ridiculous degree when they were given to European immigrants just getting off the boat at Ellis Island, and could speak no English--big surprise, the majority of Italian immigrants were morons. (Ha, I say that in all humility, being the granddaughter of Italian immigrants!)

Reading about such things as involuntary sterilization based on IQ tests, "criminal" typing based on physiognomy, and various scientists' ideas of how to "improve" the human species does send a chill up the spine--but it was quite a prominent philosophy right here in the good ol' USA.

Teresa
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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by BWV 1080 » Tue Dec 11, 2012 10:32 am

the American eugenics movement was an inspiration for the Nazi one
From the turn of the century, German eugenicists formed academic and personal relationships with the American eugenics establishment, in particular with Charles Davenport, the pioneering founder of the Eugenics Record Office on Long Island, New York, which was backed by the Harriman railway fortune. A number of other charitable American bodies generously funded German race biology with hundreds of thousands of dollars, even after the depression had taken hold.

Germany had certainly developed its own body of eugenic knowledge and library of publications. Yet German readers still closely followed American eugenic accomplishments as the model: biological courts, forced sterilisation, detention for the socially inadequate, debates on euthanasia. As America's elite were describing the socially worthless and the ancestrally unfit as "bacteria," "vermin," "mongrels" and "subhuman", a superior race of Nordics was increasingly seen as the answer to the globe's eugenic problems. US laws, eugenic investigations and ideology became blueprints for Germany's rising tide of race biologists and race-based hatemongers.

One such agitator was a disgruntled corporal in the German army. In 1924, he was serving time in prison for mob action. While there, he spent his time poring over eugenic textbooks, which extensively quoted Davenport, Popenoe and other American ethnological stalwarts. And he closely followed the writings of Leon Whitney, president of the American Eugenics Society, and Madison Grant, who extolled the Nordic race and bemoaned its "corruption" by Jews, Negroes, Slavs and others who did not possess blond hair and blue eyes. The young German corporal even wrote one of them fan mail.

In The Passing of the Great Race, Grant wrote: "Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life tend to prevent both the elimination of defective infants and the sterilisation of such adults as are themselves of no value to the community. The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race."

One day in the early 1930s, Whitney visited Grant to show off a letter he had just received from Germany, written by the corporal, now out of prison and rising in the German political scene. Grant could only smile. He pulled out his own letter. It was from the same German, thanking Grant for writing The Passing of the Great Race. The fan letter called Grant's book "his Bible". The man who sent those letters was Adolf Hitler.

Hitler displayed his knowledge of American eugenics in much of his writing and conversation. In Mein Kampf, for example, he declared: "The demand that defective people be prevented from propagating equally defective offspring is a demand of clearest reason and, if systematically executed, represents the most humane act of mankind. It will spare millions of unfortunates undeserved sufferings, and consequently will lead to a rising improvement of health as a whole."

Mein Kampf also displayed a familiarity with the recently passed US National Origins Act, which called for eugenic quotas. "There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but [the US], in which an effort is made to consult reason at least partially. By refusing immigrants on principle to elements in poor health, by simply excluding certain races from naturalisation, it professes in slow beginnings a view that is peculiar to the People's State."

Hitler proudly told his comrades how closely he followed American eugenic legislation. "Now that we know the laws of heredity," he told a fellow Nazi, "it is possible to a large extent to prevent unhealthy and severely handicapped beings from coming into the world. I have studied with interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock."

Nor did Hitler fail to grasp the eugenic potential of gas and the lethal chamber, a topic that was already being discussed in German eugenic circles before Mein Kampf was published. Hitler, who had himself been hospitalised for battlefield gas injuries, wrote: "If at the beginning of the war and during the war 12,000 or 15,000 of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our best German workers in the field, the sacrifices of millions at the front would not have been in vain. On the contrary: 12,000 scoundrels eliminated in time might have saved the lives of a million real Germans, valuable for the future."

On January 30 1933, Hitler seized power. During the 12-year Reich, he never varied from the eugenic doctrines of identification, segregation, sterilisation, euthanasia, eugenic courts and eventually mass termination in lethal chambers. During the Reich's first 10 years, eugenicists across America welcomed Hitler's plans as the logical fulfilment of their own decades of research and effort. Indeed, they were envious as Hitler rapidly began sterilising hundreds of thousands and systematically eliminating non-Aryans from German society
Eugenics was also a key component of Nordic socialism. Sweden was forcibly sterilizing people as late as 1975

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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by Mark Harwood » Wed Dec 12, 2012 3:39 am

We should not criticize eugenics just because the Nazis approved of it. They approved of steel too.
Eugenic intervention has been proposed and supported by good people with good intentions. Of course that doesn't mean it's a good thing, but to see it as a personality flaw is unintelligent. I don't believe that we should think less of Nikolai Tesla because he approved of eugenics.
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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by John F » Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:03 am

people want to canonize the man (sometimes literally)
Literally? What does this mean?

Eugenics is standard for all domesticated species other than humans. From wheat to cows, humans control breeding to produce desired results and eliminate undesired traits. The argument against human eugenics isn't scientific, it's ethical - we treat human beings differently from plants or livestock. The ethical argument is not weak, indeed it's fundamental to human society, but one can see how some scientists might dismiss ethical considerations as sentimentality and focus on scientific arguments instead, which when you think about it are as valid for human eugenics as any other kind.

Human eugenics is taking a different form in our time, thanks to advances in the understanding of genetics and the mapping and analysis of the human genome. If it were possible by genetic manipulation to remove or neutralize the genes that cause diseases like Alzheimer's or Down's, thereby improving the health of our species, rather than the old crude and inhumane methods of involuntary sterilization or killing the carriers, is there an ethical argument against doing so? If genetic modification could not just eliminate mental retardation but make the human race smarter, what's the ethical argument against doing so?
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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by Mark Harwood » Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:50 am

John, I propose an ethical objection to the removal of harmful genes from humans.

The incompleteness of our understanding of genetics is demonstrated by the remarkable progress that it continues to make. That means that the consequences of any changes cannot be fully foreseen. There are bad genes that are known to be actually beneficial in the heterozygote, and there may be others. Plus, we are only beginning to discover the role of epigenetic material.
So, genetically modifying a human being is tantamount to experimenting on him/her.
The corollary is that, if and when we fully understand genetics, the eugenic removal of certain genotypes and their phenotypes (eg. certain cancers and developmental disorders) will no longer be subject to this particular ethical objection.
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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:19 am

Mark Harwood wrote:We should not criticize eugenics just because the Nazis approved of it. They approved of steel too.
Eugenic intervention has been proposed and supported by good people with good intentions. Of course that doesn't mean it's a good thing, but to see it as a personality flaw is unintelligent. I don't believe that we should think less of Nikolai Tesla because he approved of eugenics.
Eugenics was the core motivation for the Holocaust, and yes it should be considered a flaw of Tesla for believing falling for this racist pseudoscience

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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by John F » Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:41 am

Any new medical treatment is subject to essentially the same ethical objection. Testing a new drug, a new prosthesis, a new procedure is quite literally experimenting on human beings. Sometimes it is done with the patient's consent, sometimes not, but in either case, what's the difference?

Genetic modification is not going to be conducted on the entire human race simultaneously. We're not all going to wake up tomorrow morning cancer-free. As with all other developments in medicine, a small number would take the first risk and get the first rewards, if it works. Wider implementation would follow, starting with those most at risk from the disease or condition.

There is a substantial difference, and a big one. Whoever receives genetic modification, if they then have children, may pass the modified genome on, subject to the usual variables concerning genetic traits. For this reason, it may be necessary to limit clinical trials to those who aren't going to have children. And doubtless there are many other considerations that don't occur to me off the top of my head, that must be sorted out and allowed for.

What I'm saying is that except for this proviso, any ethical issues in the treatment or prevention of disease by genetic manipulation are essentially the same as apply to all medical discoveries, trials, and practice. Am I missing something?

Going beyond this, the selective genetic manipulation of groups or classes of human beings to "improve" the species, for example to increase intelligence or physical attractiveness, raises important ethical social issues, because it would give those who receive treatment a competitive advantage over those who don't. Most of us would think this unjust. The fact that all societies are unjust in other ways is no answer to this objection. But that kind of genetic modification isn't an issue now, and we don't know whether it would even be possible. In any event, it's an entirely different issue from the elimination from individuals and eventually the species of genetically caused disabilities and diseases.
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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by Teresa B » Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:12 am

John F wrote: Going beyond this, the selective genetic manipulation of groups or classes of human beings to "improve" the species, for example to increase intelligence or physical attractiveness, raises important ethical social issues, because it would give those who receive treatment a competitive advantage over those who don't. Most of us would think this unjust. The fact that all societies are unjust in other ways is no answer to this objection. But that kind of genetic modification isn't an issue now, and we don't know whether it would even be possible. In any event, it's an entirely different issue from the elimination from individuals and eventually the species of genetically caused disabilities and diseases.
They actually made a Star Trek episode treating this issue--I think it was in the "Deep Space Nine" series. The physician, Dr. Bashir had been carrying a secret--he had been genetically modified as a child because he had some learning disabilities, or something, and his parents had not wanted him to fall behind other children, etc. So Bashir actually developed superior abilities at many things. Problem is, it turns out Starfleet had banned genetically engineered individuals, and Bashir's career is in jeopardy after the secret is revealed.

It's a moral issue, dealt with in a quite realistic way (within Star Trek sensibilities)--not at all black-and-white; the parents feared their child would be retarded or "deficient" in some way; they did what they thought was best for him--yet there remained the issue of unjustness that you raise above, John.
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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by lennygoran » Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:30 am

Mark Harwood wrote: So, genetically modifying a human being is tantamount to experimenting on him/her.
The corollary is that, if and when we fully understand genetics, the eugenic removal of certain genotypes and their phenotypes (eg. certain cancers and developmental disorders) will no longer be subject to this particular ethical objection.
To me the big thing is whether the patient has the matter fully explained to him and gives permission to be a subject--how can we ever "fully understand' these matters? Regards, Len

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Re: Nikolai Tesla, Eugenicist

Post by Mark Harwood » Sat Dec 15, 2012 6:45 am

By "fully understand" I mean the mechanics of it.
For once, we have an opportunity to work on the ethics of a technology well in advance of its potential for application.
In the long term, eugenics might have a role in the greater good.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 132729.htm
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